Installation view of “Old Master Q:
 What The @#$% Is Going On?
 Original Works by Alphonso Wong” at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery, 2014. Courtesy Sotheby’s Hong Kong. 

Sep 16 2014

Old Master Q:
 What The @#$% Is Going On?
 Original Works by Alphonso Wong

by Susanna Chen

“Who is Lau Fu Zi?” If you pose this question to a Chinese person, his or her response would perhaps be, “Are you kidding?” followed by an awkward and incredulous silence. The truth is that even a seven-year-old child would be able to identify this figure—the protagonist of an enduring Chinese comic series. This summer, 128 original illustrations of Old Master Q (or Lau Fu Zi in Chinese), produced from the mid-1960s to the 1980s, were displayed in “Old Master Q:
 What The @#$% Is Going On?
 Original Works by Alphonso Wong,” at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery. All works, signed by the artist and stamped by the OMQ Studio, were up for grabs at the selling exhibition. Meanwhile, local families also had the chance to meet with classic characters such as Old Master Q, Big Potato and Mr. Chin—and take pictures with their cardboard figures.

The majority of the Old Master Q tales are based on a series of four-word Chinese idioms. The short comics usually make up of four to six grids each, with illustrations and a few lines of hand-written text, and often depict mundane events with exaggerated storylines and a comedic tone. The three main characters of the series, including Old Master Q himself, appear in many different roles—such as teachers, scientists, farmers and wuxia figures (or Chinese martial arts masters)—depending on the tale. The three troublemakers travel from the past to the present to the future, performing every joke that is assigned to them by their master, Alphonso Wong.

ALPHONSO WONG, Old Master Q: Newfashioned Band,1968, ink on paper, 47.5 × 27 cm. Copyright OMQ Zmedia Ltd. Courtesy the artist. 

ALPHONSO WONG, Old Master Q: Full Automation,1972, ink on paper, 45.5 × 26 cm. Copyright OMQ Zmedia Ltd. Courtesy the artist. 

ALPHONSO WONGOld Master Q: Two Jobs,1968, ink on paper, 48 × 29.3 cm. Copyright OMQ Zmedia Ltd. Courtesy the artist. 

Inspired by Hong Kong society and culture, Wong created the character of Old Master Q in 1962 for newspapers and magazines, which later became a comic series in 1964. His pen name “Wong Chak” is actually the name of his eldest son, who took over the comic’s illustration when his father retired in the mid-1990s, and continues to publish the series today. Their works sometimes draw attention to more serious issues, such as poverty, suicide and crime, and reflect on the social and political environment of Hong Kong and the Chinese society in general. Through Newfashioned Band (1968), Wong comments on Hong Kong’s blended Chinese and Western culture by drawing a band of people playing violins and pipas (Chinese lupes); and in Full Automation (1972) and Fastfood (1969), he jokes about the growing popularity of the terms “automatic” and “fast food” in Chinese society. Two Jobs (1968), in which Old Master Q is both a doctor and a hairdresser, illustrates how tough life was in the old days, when people had to have multiple jobs in order to support their families. No matter what the subject is, the tone of Wong’s comic strips is constantly humorous, making people laugh as they look through his works.

One of the highlights of the exhibition was an interactive digital comic-making device. Visitors were able to “create” their own comic strips by posing in front of a camera, which transformed one’s image into a black-and-white comic figure that fit into the monochromatic comics of Old Master Q. People were able to replace one of the main characters and have a taste of being in the surreal worlds created by Alphonso Wong. Upon completion, the device sent the final image to the participator’s pre-registered e-mail account. This four-framed image was a delightful souvenir and undoubtedly a must-have for all Old Master Q enthusiasts.

Old Master Q (Lau Fu Zi) has been with the Chinese people for more than half a century. From the first book of the series, Old Master Q and Mr. Chin (1964), to the traveling exhibition “Old Master Q’s Anniversary Time Travelling Train,” which kicked off last year in Taipei, the Wongs’ intention of continuing Old Master Q stays the same—to bring happiness to its readers. In a fast-paced city like Hong Kong, perhaps this is what we need—time to breath and laugh at the silly mistakes we make in life.

Old Master Q: What The @#$% Is Going On?  Original Works by Alphonso Wong was on view at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery from August 9 to 29, 2014.